In the past few years, the number of climbers attempting to summit the world’s tallest mountain has risen to the point that Base Camp resembles a small town. Many have associated the crowds with increasing danger. Sensational headlines call the mountain a “death trap” and a “morgue.” But one climber’s analysis of data reveals that the number of deaths per summit has actually declined.

“I thought it would be interesting to look at this question because whenever anyone dies on Everest the media goes crazy,” said Alan Arnette, who has been to Everest four times and summited in 2011. “I thought, wait a minute; let’s really look at the facts.”

When he did, gleaning statistics from the Himalayan Database, 8000ers.com and Wikipedia, he found that the death rate per summit has dropped significantly since the 1990s.

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When commercialization hit the mountain in the 90s, the rate went up to 5.56 percent. And since 2000, it's dropped to 1.5 percent. That’s lower than the overall death rate of 3.2 percent since 1922.

Of course, because 5,048 of the 6,214 summits have been in the 2000s, there are more actual deaths: 69 since 2000, vs. 59 in the 90s.

Ellen Miller, the first American woman to climb the mountain from both sides, agrees that safety innovations have made the climb less risky than it was decades ago.

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“Armchair mountaineers really generalize a lot about Mount Everest,” Miller said. “They say, oh, it’s so dangerous now because of the crowds. But my perception is that it’s safer now than it was 50 years ago.”

The most obvious safety innovation is much improved weather forecasting and communication. Other factors, such as improved responsibility among commercial outfitters, using established routes, and better partnership with sherpas, probably also play a role.

Some think that with today’s forecasting, the 1996 tragedy might have been avoided. A surprise storm hit Everest and eight people died during a two-day span in May.

Today, not only are the predictions better, but communication is fairly simple: Cell phone antennas were installed in base camp in 2010. Arnette's team delayed their summit by a week last year because they knew a front was moving in.

Grant Dixon

Also, the standard routes up the mountain have been so well established that guides are extremely familiar with their nuances. That wasn’t the case in the '70s and '80s when climbers were busy forging new treks to the top. While a couple of teams of professional climbers will attempt two new routes this year, it's quite rare to venture outside the two standard routes, Arnette said.

Sherpas, who help carry heavy loads for Westerners to the high camps, have often summited many times, so they know the specific route and dangers. As Sherpa support has gone up, deaths on the mountain have gone down. More climbers are hiring their own Sherpas instead of relying on the idea that they will be around if needed.  It used to be a common mistake to go in thinking that no matter what happens, a Sherpa will be able to perform a miracle and save your life, Arnette said.

"Sherpas are experiencing the storms in the same way," Arnette said. "If it's 40 below zero and you can't see because there's a 40-mph wind, I don't care if you're Nepalize or German or American."

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And while there’s no denying the crowds, Miller said people are most often gracious in allowing experienced climbers to hike through.

“If people are looking for a wilderness experience, they’re not going to find it on Everest -- or even the 14ers,” she said. “People need to be clear about their expectations.”

Of course, some safety precautions remain the same. Key among them is understanding your own limitations and being willing to forsake the summit.

Last year, she turned around before summiting a different peak in the area because of avalanche danger.

“I did not feel comfortable,” Miller said. “To this day, I feel really good about that decision; I have no regrets.”

In one of his first attempts, Arnette made it to 27,200 feet before he started throwing up. He made one of the hardest decisions of his life and turned around.

"I knew my body was not performing as it should," he said.

For those considering it: Do some homework, Miller said. Get some altitude experience.

“It is a beautiful, magical place for me,” she said. “I have had some of the best days of my life there. I think every person goes there looking for something different. But until you go there and climb it and experience it, it’s very difficult to judge it and understand what goes on up there.”